Executive Advice

If you ever needed a shot in the arm, world-renown Music Supervisor P.J. Bloom is going to give it to you. Under his direction, his Soundtracks have sold 50 million singles and 15 million albums. His work with his new record label, Black Magnetic, have his artists topping Billboad -- and coveted Google search -- charts. Start your 2015 off right with some solid advice from one of the best in the industry.


If you want some help, P.J. Bloom is your guy. He’s been working in the music industry for over 20 years, and has earned his keep as one of the most sought-after Music Supervisors in the country. Today, Bloom’s career soundtrack sales tally more than 50 million singles and 15 million albums worldwide, and his work with the Glee franchise holds the record for most charted songs by a single act in Billboard Hot 100 chart history. (His Glee work also holds the record for most charted songs by an act in Hot 100 history, beating out Elvis, The Beatles and James Brown.) He’s a voting member for the Grammys.

Bloom also founded the tremendously successful Black Magnetic Records. With his keen ear for talent and exceptional knowledge of the industry, he’s been able to get (and keep) his artists in the forefront of the new digital music world. For example, “Say Something,” an indie ballad from A Great Big World, was not only a Top Five hit on Billboad’s Hot 100, but it also ended up being the most Googled song lyrics in all of 2014.

HM Magazine’s Chiara Casiraghi gets with the man behind all of this madness to root out some of his knowledge for bands and fans alike. If you need a blueprint for your music in 2015, Bloom’s advice is a fantastic place to start.

Tell me about your humble beginnings.
I guess that depends where you want to start. Career-wise, my beginnings were more humiliating than humble. In the early ’90s, I came back from college with a degree in music and had every expectation of taking over the industry in short order. I was convinced there was no way it could resist my undeniable talent. Instead, I couldn’t find a job and ended up slinging pizza pies at a local restaurant frequented by old ladies committed to early bird senior specials. That sucked!

Then, I figured if I couldn’t get anyone to pay me to be in the music business, I should have no problem offering my services for free through an internship. I soon found out I couldn’t even land that because internships are reserved for students and I had already graduated. So in order to circumvent the system, I literally purchased three credits at a local college in order to qualify as a part-time student.

Soon after, I was able to get that internship at Columbia Records in a subdivision of their A&R Department called Soundtracks, which was a pivotal moment. That was my first exposure to the field. It became my focused career path for the next two decades – but I had to shell out $300 in order to work for free at a record company. Best money I ever spent!

That’s when I realized music had no rules – that art was only limited by imagination.

Who were your favorite bands growing up?
Truth be told I remember loving all music and not feeling so committed to any specific genre. My folks belonged to the RCA 8-track club in the early 70’s so they used to play albums like Carole King’s Tapestry and Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman all the time, which wasn’t such a bad thing in the spirit of a well-rounded music education. But my key music moment came when I was around nine years old. My grandmother bought me Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti because she went to the record store and asked the clerk what the kids were listening to.

Sonically, this was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. The way it touched me was indescribable – as I’m sure many of your readers can relate. But it went beyond that. There was also the art: The double album, gatefold cover with the record sleeve inserts that created the images in the windows of the building. That’s when I realized  music had no rules – that art was only limited by imagination.

Do you remember going to your first concert?
I remember the first concert that blew my mind… Van Halen ‘Diver Down’ at The Fabulous Forum, the big arena in L.A. 20,000 screaming fans all in black t-shirts and jeans watching (arguably) the greatest rock act of the time. Obviously the band crushed it, but this was my first experience in collective consciousness – to be in a room with 19,999 other people who looked like me, dressed like me and loved this band as much as I did. I never felt less alone than at that moment.

Tell me about your first gig in the music industry.
My first gig was the one I mentioned earlier – the internship at Columbia Records in their Soundtrack Department. At the time I knew what a soundtrack was. I had my Grease and Saturday Night Fever albums at home, but I never thought about soundtracks as a career path. I worked for a woman named Maureen Crowe, who had just Music Supervised The Bodyguard film with Whitney Houston. That soundtrack has since sold nearly 45 million albums and, at that time, was the highest selling soundtrack in history.

I sing and I’ve been practicing the bass of late. I still love to perform but at this stage and with so little free time, that only happens at karaoke or during late night drunken jams.

Maureen exposed me to the soundtrack field and I was completely blown away. I had stumbled across this job where I could have one foot in music and one foot in visual media. It was a lightning bolt moment and I did everything I could to stay a part of it.

Now you’re a partner at Neophonic Music and Media and owner at Black Magnetic Records, discovering talent. Were you ever on the artist/performing side?
I would never call myself a musician, especially after having worked with so many world-class players. I took many a piano lesson growing up and studied piano at college for a bit. I’m a self-taught guitar player. At my best I was a pretty good rhythm guy. I sing and I’ve been practicing the bass of late. I still love to perform but at this stage and with so little free time, that only happens at karaoke or during late night drunken jams.

I did play music in a few bands and did perform live a lot. My biggest claim to fame was a band a played keys and guitar in at college. We were an early midi/guitar hybrid outfit a la Nine Inch Nails. We actually managed to get a song played on college radio, which, at the time, was a huge accomplishment for us.

You’ve worn many hats from music supervisor to label owner do you have a favorite?
I don’t have a favorite. It’s all incredibly gratifying. I am so blessed to work with music and such talented people on a daily basis. Music Supervision is rewarding because I get to play a critical role in the creation of an overall visual work. A soundtrack can make or break the experience for the audience. If I can help accentuate that experience and effect people’s relationship with it while also help tell the story through music, I find it so worthwhile.

Signing bands and artists is different. In that role I commit to a single act that inspires me then use my knowledge of music, my connectivity to the industry and (often times) my own money to take them from a place of limited exposure to one where they have a global platform to share their material, and that’s what artists want most – to be heard by as many people as possible.

Since inception, Black Magnetic has claimed three Top 10 hits, including two No. 1s, and has sold over 17 million singles. What made you want to create your own record label?
The motivation behind creating my own record company was simple: ownership of an asset. For nearly two decades, I’ve had great success as a Music Supervisor. At the same time, that is a service gig. I get paid a flat fee to provide that service. I don’t own the film or television show or soundtrack I help create. I simply use my skills, both creative and in business, to add value to something someone or some other company owns so they can (hopefully) make a sh-t-ton of money exploiting it. I wanted to start investing in the asset of music so I can own the value I help create, which is why I started the record and publishing companies.

What did it take to get it up and running?
Starting the Black Magnetic didn’t cost much. I designed the logo myself, spent like $50 securing the domain name, developed a relationship with a digital distributor to release the music then began telling people I started a record company. Seriously, that’s about it. The real expense came when I started signing bands and advancing them money. That’s when I was laying out tens of thousands of dollars.

I’m not suggesting you have to spend the kind of money I did to sign indie bands, but I wanted my bands to see my commitment to them and to have survival money, which all young bands want and need.

Artist development is all but dead on the corporate side. You need to prove you have a large, existing fanbase, you can tour, you have large socials numbers and can sell music on your own long before labels will touch you.

What do you look for in a band/ artist?
Two core things, for me: Songwriting is key! That is the foundation of all great music; at least, the kind that stands the test of time. So when I strip away your fancy-ass haircut, your album art and your badass tattoos, I need to be left with something special and, hopefully, prolific. The other thing is that I want my bands to be wildly entertaining live. No shoegaze or laptop bands for me. I want to be knocked the f-ck out when I see a live show. That’s what blew me away when I was a kid first discovering music and it’s still critical for me now.

What advice do you have for a band or artist that wants to get the attention of a label or manager like yourself?
To get my attention you need just be amazing! Do that and I’ll eventually find you. Getting the attention of other labels, especially major ones, is harder. You need to accomplish quite a bit on your own first. Artist development is all but dead on the corporate side. You need to prove you have a large, existing fanbase, you can tour, you have large socials numbers and can sell music on your own long before labels will touch you.

Essentially, most labels want to buy into an existing profitable mechanism then make that mechanism more profitable. Sad but true.

Speaking of, Dead Sara is on your roster. Tell me the story behind signing them.
This was a very unique situation for me. I was turned on to Dead Sara through a picture editor I worked with at CSI: Miami when I was Supervising that show. He had seen the band perform at a local club and loved them. So, on his recommendation, I checked out the YouTube video to their song, “Weatherman,” with very low expectations; it’s not often I’m truly impressed.

Instead, I was absolutely blown away. I watched the video ten times in a row then immediately set out to locate their managers, which I did by searching on MySpace, a website I hadn’t visited in a decade. After making contact, I spent the next year ingratiating myself with the band and their team, essentially proving my commitment to their music and success. In the end I was able to convince them partnering with me was the right move.

The Last Internationale is released their major label debut, We Will Reign, with Brendan O’Brien producing, in 2014. What happens on your side when releasing an artist’s album?
We run a very multi-faceted approach with our partners, Epic Records and SonyATV Music Publishing. Terrestrial radio is still the key to success in this country, so we’re running a focused promo campaign for the single “Wanted Man.” We’ll drive awareness through socials – Twitter, Instagram, etc. – which points consumers towards digital retail and assets, like video and tour dates. For better or worse, this is how today’s generation ingest information.

We’ll also make a very concerted effort to get some high profile film and television licensing opportunities. These are some of the best and most high profile promotional tools in our business right now, and given my background as a Music Supervisor, it’s where I excel. We’ll be attacking press and publicity, servicing every outlet that makes sense for TLI and their music. The band has been touring consistently for the better part of this year, opening for acts like Kings of Leon and playing major festivals like Lollapalooza. We’ll continue to keep them on the road as touring is still the best way to increase a band’s fanbase. We’ll also try to exploit brand partnerships wherever possible. Cross-collateralizing our audience with an established product’s consumer base is another fantastic way to get the word out.

These are many of the basic approaches we take. There’s plenty of other stuff in between and there’s a huge team of people doing everything they can to break The Last Internationale. It’s impressive to watch it unfold.

For me the hardest thing is knowing how the sausage is made. Once you know how the music business works, you realize that pure creativity is only part of the equation, and, often times, it’s a very small part.

Following the recent shift in the music industry, what are the best avenues for generating a profit and maintaining success for the artists and musicians?
In my opinion, touring. This is how it’s always been done. Play in front of people and make fans, one at a time. It’s the hardest, most brutal and often times most expensive way to approach success, but there’s still no substitute. Touring also allows artists to hone their craft – both in performance and songwriting.

Film and Television licensing is a great way to make money, but those opportunities are few and far between and competition is fierce. The bottom line is you’re not going to sell your music unless there’s a fanbase who wants to buy it – and if they don’t know about you then why would they want it? National radio isn’t going to touch you unless you’re already well on your way to being a good-sized band or you have a record label leveraging their resources to get you on the charts.

Basically, it’s all about building the story on your own. You have to give people a reason to care, and, in today’s world, simply creating the music, putting it out into the world and hoping the Universe provides isn’t enough. You have to tour. You have to get your socials up. You need to make inroads at synch.

On average, I feel it’s a good three-year burn from the moment you start an artist project to having a shot at real success, if you’re working on all these angles simultaneously. It takes at least that long to develop, and, even then, you still must have a bunch of luck on your side.

Is there anything in about the music industry that you will never get used to?
For me the hardest thing is knowing how the sausage is made. Once you know how the music business works, you realize that pure creativity is only part of the equation, and, often times, it’s a very small part.

It’s difficult for me to listen to music as an untainted fan anymore. Every time I hear music or see a band live I’m picking apart every aspect of it – the structure and sound of the songs, the performance, the look – and then I’m calculating the probability of success based on my knowledge of the industry versus the art. Gone are the days when I go to a show or listen to a song and just enjoy. Sad.

What do you do on your days off? Do you have days off?
On my days off, which are few and far between, I try to do as little with music as possible. I go to the beach a lot. I actually took up surfing this year, which has been an epic outlet for me. I don’t see myself becoming Kelly Slater or anything, but I can definitely see myself surfing until I die.

Do you frequent music festivals like SXSW and Austin City Limits to find talent?
I do. I’ve been attending SXSW since 1991 when the entire conference housed several hundred people and took place in the lobby of a hotel. Now it’s over 20,000 registrants and 1,600 bands. For the last several years, I’ve been hosting a party there called The Austin Jump-Off. We have about six bands and free beer. Good times.

I’ve been to many other festivals around the country. I can’t say I’ve ever signed a band out of any of them, primarily because most acts on those bills are already signed. But they sure are fun – and exhausting – and a great way to see a lot of music in a short period of time.

What’s the furthest you’ve traveled to listen to a band or discover talent?
I’ve traveled all over the U.S. and Canada, been to many countries in Europe and gone as far as Australia for music. I haven’t been to Asia yet. That’s on the list, for sure!

What are you future plans for Black Magnetic Records?
We’ll keep signing acts and continue to support our artists in every way possible. If we have hits along the way that’s a beautiful thing. But the ultimate goal is to create the pathway for our acts to touch more people than when they signed with us, to find a broader audience. If we properly handle the business part, then we create a culture where artists can do what they do best – be artists.

PJ Bloom was posted on January 2, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by .